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Argia M.

Sbordone, Andrea Tambalotti, Krishna Rao, and Kieran Walsh

Policy Analysis Using DSGE


Models: An Introduction
Dynamic stochastic general equilibrium
models are playing an important role in the
formulation and communication of monetary
policy at many of the worlds central banks.

These models, which emphasize the


dependence of current choices on expected
future outcomes, have moved from academic
circles to the policymaking communitybut
they are not well known to the general public.

This study adds to the understanding of the


DSGE framework by using a small-scale
model to show how to address specific
monetary policy questions; the authors
focus on the causes of the sudden pickup
in inflation in the first half of 2004.

An important lesson derived from the exercise


is that the management of expectations can
be a more effective tool for stabilizing inflation
than actual movements in the policy rate;
this result is consistent with the increasing
focus on central bankers pronouncements
of their future actions.

Argia M. Sbordone is an assistant vice president and Andrea Tambalotti a


senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; Krishna Rao is
a graduate student at Stanford University; Kieran Walsh is a graduate student
at Yale University.
Correspondence: argia.sbordone@ny.frb.org, andrea.tambalotti@ny.frb.org

1. Introduction

n recent years, there has been a significant evolution in


the formulation and communication of monetary policy
at a number of central banks around the world. Many of
these banks now present their economic outlook and policy
strategies to the public in a more formal way, a process
accompanied by the introduction of modern analytical tools
and advanced econometric methods in forecasting and policy
simulations. Official publications by central banks that
formally adopt a monetary policy strategy of inflation
targetingsuch as the Inflation Report issued by the Bank
of England and the monetary policy reports issued by the
Riksbank and Norges Bankhave progressively introduced
into the policy process the language and methodologies
developed in the modern dynamic macroeconomic literature.1
The development of medium-scale DSGE (dynamic
stochastic general equilibrium) models has played a key role
in this process.2 These models are built on microeconomic
foundations and emphasize agents intertemporal choice.
The dependence of current choices on future uncertain
1

The Bank of England has published a quarterly Inflation Report since 1993.
The report sets out the detailed economic analysis and inflation projections on
which the Banks Monetary Policy Committee bases its interest rate decisions.
The Riksbank and Norges Bank each publish monetary policy reports three
times a year. These reports contain forecasts for the economy and an
assessment of the interest rate outlook for the medium term.
2
A simple exposition of this class of models can be found in Gal and Gertler
(2007). Woodford (2003) provides an exhaustive textbook treatment.

The authors thank Ariel Zetlin-Jones for his contribution to the early stages
of this work. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not
necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
or the Federal Reserve System.

FRBNY Economic Policy Review / October 2010

23

outcomes makes the models dynamic and assigns a central


role to agents expectations in the determination of current
macroeconomic outcomes. In addition, the models general
equilibrium nature captures the interaction between policy
actions and agents behavior. Furthermore, a more detailed
specification of the stochastic shocks that give rise to economic
fluctuations allows one to trace more clearly the shocks
transmission to the economy.
The use of DSGE models as a potential tool for policy
analysis has contributed to their diffusion from academic to
policymaking circles. However, the models remain less wellknown to the general public. To broaden the understanding of
these models, this article offers a simple illustration of how an
estimated model in this class can be used to answer specific
monetary policy questions. To that end, we introduce the
structure of DSGE models by presenting a simple model,
meant to flesh out their distinctive features. Before proceeding
to a formal description of the optimization problems solved by
firms and consumers, we use a simple diagram to illustrate
the interactions among the main agents in the economy. With
the theoretical structure in place, we discuss the features of the
estimated model and the extent to which it approximates the
volatility and comovement of economic time series. We also
discuss important outcomes of the estimationnamely, the

This article offers a simple illustration of


how an estimated [DSGE] model . . . can
be used to answer specific monetary
policy questions.
possibility of recovering the structural shocks that drive
economic fluctuations as well as the historical behavior of
variables that are relevant for policy but are not directly
observable. We conclude by applying the DSGE tool to study
the role of monetary policy in a recent episode of an increase in
inflation. The lesson we emphasize is that, while they are a very
stylized representation of the real economy, DSGE models
provide a disciplined way of thinking about the economic
outlook and its interaction with policy.3
We work with a small model in order to make the
transmission mechanism of monetary policy, whose basic
contours our model shares with most DSGE specifications,
as transparent as possible. Therefore, the model focuses on
the behavior of only three major macroeconomic variables:
inflation, GDP growth, and the short-term interest rate.
3

Adolfson et al. (2007) offer a more extended illustration of how DSGE models
can be used to address questions that policymakers confront in practice. Erceg,
Guerrieri, and Gust (2006) illustrate policy simulations with an open-economy
DSGE model.

24

Policy Analysis Using DSGE Models: An Introduction

However, the basic framework that we present could easily


be enriched to provide more details on the structure of the
economy. In fact, a key advantage of DSGE models is that they
share core assumptions on the behavior of households and
firms, which makes them easily scalable to include details that
are relevant to address the question at hand. Indeed, several

A key advantage of DSGE models is that


they share core assumptions on the
behavior of households and firms, which
makes them easily scalable to include
details that are relevant to address the
question at hand.
extensions of the basic framework presented here have been
developed in the literature, including the introduction of wage
stickiness and frictions in the capital accumulation process
(see the popular model of Smets and Wouters [2007]) and a
treatment of wage bargaining and labor market search (Gertler,
Sala, and Trigari 2008).4 Recently, the 2008 financial crisis has
highlighted one key area where DSGE models must develop:
the inclusion of a more sophisticated financial intermediation
sector. There is a large body of work under way to model
financial frictions within the baseline DSGE frameworkwork
that is very promising for the study of financial intermediation
as a source and conduit of shocks as well as for its implications
for monetary policy. However, this last generation of models
has not yet been subjected to extensive empirical analysis.
Our study is organized as follows. Section 2 describes the
general structure of our model while Section 3 illustrates its
construction from microeconomic foundations. Section 4
briefly describes our approach to estimation and presents some
of the models empirical properties. In Section 5, we use the
model to analyze the inflationary episode of the first half of
2004. Section 6 concludes.

2. DSGE Models and Their


Basic Structure
Dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models used for policy
analysis share a fairly simple structure, built around three
interrelated blocks: a demand block, a supply block, and a
4

Some of these larger DSGE models inform policy analysis at central banks
around the world: Smets and Wouters (2007) of the European Central Bank;
Edge, Kiley, and Laforte (2008) of the Federal Reserve System; and Adolfson
et al. (2008) of the Riksbank.

The Basic Structure of DSGE Models


Mark-up
shocks

Demand
shocks

Y = f YY(Y e, i - ee,...)
Demand

Productivity
shocks

= f ( e,Y,...)
Supply

Y e, e
Expectations

i = f i( *,Y,...)
Monetary policy

Policy
shocks

monetary policy equation. Formally, the equations that define


these blocks derive from microfoundations: explicit
assumptions about the behavior of the main economic actors
in the economyhouseholds, firms, and the government.
These agents interact in markets that clear every period, which
leads to the general equilibrium feature of the models.
Section 3 presents the microfoundations of a simple DSGE
model and derives the equations that define its equilibrium.
But first, we begin by introducing the basic components
common to most DSGE models with the aid of a diagram.
In the diagram, the three interrelated blocks are depicted as
rectangles. The demand block determines real activity Y as
a function of the ex ante real interest ratethe nominal rate
e
minus expected inflation i and of expectations about
e
future real activity Y . This block captures the idea that, when
real interest rates are temporarily high, people and firms would
rather save than consume or invest. At the same time, people
are willing to spend more when future prospects are promising
e
( Y is high), regardless of the level of interest rates.
The line connecting the demand block to the supply block
shows that the level of activity Y emerging from the demand
block is a key input in the determination of inflation ,
e
together with expectations of future inflation . In
prosperous times, when the level of activity is high, firms must
increase wages to induce employees to work longer hours.
Higher wages increase marginal costs, putting pressure on
prices and generating inflation. Moreover, the higher inflation
is expected to be in the future, the higher is this increase in
prices, thus contributing to a rise in inflation today.
The determination of output and inflation from the
demand and supply blocks feeds into the monetary policy
block, as indicated by the dashed lines. The equation in that
block describes how the central bank sets the nominal interest

rate, usually as a function of inflation and real activity. This


reflects the tendency of central banks to raise the short-term
interest rate when the economy is overheating as well as when
inflation rises and to lower it in the presence of economic slack.
By adjusting the nominal interest rate, monetary policy in turn
affects real activity and through it inflation, as represented by
the line flowing from the monetary policy block to the demand
block and then to the supply block. The policy rule therefore
closes the circle, giving us a complete model of the relationship
between three key endogenous variables: output Y , inflation
, and the nominal interest rate i .
While this brief description appears static, one of the
fundamental features of DSGE models is the dynamic
interaction between the blockshence, the dynamic aspect
of the DSGE labelin the sense that expectations about the
future are a crucial determinant of todays outcomes. These
expectations are pinned down by the same mechanism that
generates outcomes today. Therefore, output and inflation

One of the fundamental features of


DSGE models is the dynamic interaction
between the [three interrelated] blocks
hence, the dynamic aspect of the DSGE
labelin the sense that expectations
about the future are a crucial determinant
of todays outcomes.
tomorrow, and thus their expectations as of today, depend on
monetary policy tomorrow in the same way as they do today
of course, taking into account what will happen from then
on into the infinite future.
The diagram highlights the role of expectations and the
dynamic connections between the blocks that they create.
The influence of expectations on the economy is represented by
the arrows, which flow from monetary policy to the demand
and then the supply block, where output and inflation are
determined. This is to emphasize that the conduct of monetary
policy has a large influence on the formation of expectations.
In fact, in DSGE models, expectations are the main channel
through which policy affects the economy, a feature that is
consistent with the close attention paid by financial markets
and the public to the pronouncements of central banks on their
likely course of action.
The last component of DSGE models captured in the
diagram is their stochastic nature. Every period, random
exogenous events perturb the equilibrium conditions in each
block, injecting uncertainty in the evolution of the economy

FRBNY Economic Policy Review / October 2010

25

and thus generating economic fluctuations. Without these


shocks, the economy would evolve along a perfectly predictable
path, with neither booms nor recessions. We represent these
shocks as triangles, with arrows pointing toward the
equilibrium conditions on which they directly impinge. Markup and productivity shocks, for example, affect the pricing and
production decisions of firms that underlie the supply block,
while demand shocks capture changes in the willingness of
households to purchase the goods produced by those firms.

3. Microfoundations of a Simple
DSGE Model
We present the microfoundations of a small DSGE model that
is simple enough to fit closely into the stylized structure
outlined in our diagram. Our objective is to describe the basic
components of DSGE models from a more formal perspective,
using the mathematical language of economists, but avoiding
unnecessary technical details. Despite its simplicity, our model
is rich enough to provide a satisfactory empirical account of the
evolution of output, inflation, and the nominal interest rate in
the United States in the last twenty years, as we discuss in the
next section.
Given the constraints we impose on this treatment for the
sake of simplicity, our model lacks many features that are
standard in the DSGE models that central banks typically use.
For example, we ignore the process of capital accumulation,

Despite its simplicity, our model is rich


enough to provide a satisfactory empirical
account of the evolution of output,
inflation, and the nominal interest rate in
the United States in the last twenty years.

which would add another dimensioninvestment decisions


by firmsto the economys demand block. Nor do we attempt
to model the labor market in detail: for example, we make no
distinction between the number of hours worked by each
employee and the number of people at work, an issue that is
hard to overlook in a period with unemployment close to
10 percent. Finally, we exclude any impediment to the smooth
functioning of financial markets and assume that the central
bank can perfectly control the short-term interest ratethe
only relevant rate of return in the economy. The 2008 financial
crisis has proved that this set of assumptions can fail miserably

26

Policy Analysis Using DSGE Models: An Introduction

in some circumstances and has highlighted the need for a


more nuanced view of financial markets within the current
generation of DSGE models, as we observe in our introduction.

3.1. The Model Economy


Our model economy is populated by four classes of agents:
a representative household, a representative final-goodproducing firm (f-firm), a continuum of intermediate firms
(i-firms) indexed by i 0 1, and a monetary authority. The
household consumes the final good and works for the i-firms.
Each of these firms is a monopolist in the production of a
particular intermediate good i , for which it is thus able to

Our model economy is populated by


four classes of agents: a representative
household, a representative final-goodproducing firm, . . . a continuum of
intermediate firms, . . . and a monetary
authority.

set the price. The f-firm packages the differentiated goods


produced by the i-firms and sells the product to households in
a competitive market. The monetary authority sets the nominal
interest rate.
The remainder of this section describes the problem faced
by each economic agent, shows the corresponding optimization conditions, and interprets the shocks that perturb these
conditions. These optimization conditions result in dynamic
relationships among macroeconomic variables that define the
three model blocks described above. Together with market
clearing conditions, these relationships completely characterize
the equilibrium behavior of the model economy.

3.2. Households and the Aggregate


Demand Block
At the core of the demand side of virtually all DSGE models
is a negative relationship between the real interest rate and
desired spending. In our simple model, the only source of
spending is consumption. Therefore, the negative relationship
between the interest rate and demand emerges from the
consumption decision of households.

We model this decision as stemming from the optimal


choice of a very large representative householdthe entire
U.S. populationwhich maximizes its expected discounted
lifetime utility, looking forward from an arbitrary date t 0

s
Et
bt + s log Ct + s
Max
0
0
0

s = 0 s = 0
Bt + s Ct + s Ht + s i

To find the solution to the optimal problem above, we form


the Lagrangian

s
bt 0 + s log Ct + s Ct + s 1
L = Et
0
0
0

s=0

Ct

i 0 1
1

0+s1

v Ht

0+s

B
Pt C t + -----t B t 1 +
Rt

i di

subject to the sequence of budget constraints

Bt

0+s

Pt

0+s1

0+s

Ct

0 Wt

0+s

0+s

i di

+ Bt

0 +s

0+s

Rt

i Ht + s i di

0 +s
0

with first-order conditions

0 wt i Ht i di ,

for t = t 0 t 0 + 1 ,, and given Bt 1. The members of this


0
household, we call them Americans, like consumption, Ct ,
but dislike the number of hours they spend at work, Ht , to
an extent described by the convex function . The utility
flow from consumption depends on current as well as past
consumption, with a coefficient . As a result of this habit,
consumers are unhappy if their current consumption is low,
but also if it falls much below the level of their consumption in
the recent past. To afford consumption, Americans work a
certain amount of hours Ht i in each of the i-firms, where they
earn an hourly nominal wage Wt i which they take as given
when deciding how much to work.5 With the income thus
earned, they can purchase the final good at price Pt or save by
accumulating one-period discount government bonds Bt ,
whose gross rate of return between t and t + 1 is Rt .
From the perspective of time t , the household discounts
utility in period t + 1 by a time-varying factor bt + 1 bt , where
bt + 1 bt is an exogenous stochastic process. Changes in bt + 1 bt
represent shocks to the households impatience. When bt + 1
increases relative to bt , for example, the household cares more
about the future and thus wishes to save more and consume
less today, everything else equal. In this respect, bt + 1 bt acts as
a traditional demand shock, which affects desired consumption
and saving exogenously. A persistent increase in bt + 1 bt is one
way of interpreting the current macroeconomic situation in the
United States, in which households have curtailed their
consumptionpartly to build their savings. Of course, in
reality there are many complex reasons behind this observed
change in behavior, and an increase in peoples concern about
the future is surely one of them. For simplicity, the model
focuses on this one reason exclusively.
5

v Ht

In equilibrium, the wageand thus the number of hours workedwill settle


at the level at which the supply of labor by the household equals the demand of
labor by firms. This labor demand in turn is determined by the need of firms
to hire enough workers to satisfy the demand for their products, as we describe
in the next section.

(3.1a)
(3.1b)

L------: t = Et t + 1 R t
Bt

bt + 1 bt
L
1
-------- : -----t P = -------------------------- .
Et -------------------------C
Ct bt t
Ct Ct 1
t + 1 Ct

for t = t 0 t 0 + 1 , and
(3.2)

Ht i
L
--------------- : --------------------- = Wt i
Ht i
t bt

for t = t 0 t 0 + 1 , and i 0 1 , together with the


sequence of budget constraints.
These conditions yield a fully state-contingent plan for the
households choice variableshow much to work, consume,
and save in the form of bondslooking forward from the
planning date t 0 and into the foreseeable future. At any point
in time, the household is obviously uncertain about the way
in which this future will unfold. However, we assume that the
household is aware of the kind of random external events, or
shocks, that might affect its decisions and, crucially, that it
knows the probability with which these shocks might occur.
Therefore, the household can form expectations about future
outcomes, which are one of the inputs in its current choices.
We assume that these expectations are rational, meaning that
they are based on the same knowledge of the economy and of
the shocks that buffet it as that of the economist constructing
the model. We use the notation Et X t + s to denote
expectations formed at time t of any future variable X t + s ,
as in equations 3.1, for example. The optimal plan, then,
is a series of instructions on how to behave in response to the
realization of each shock, given expectations about the future,
rather than a one-time decision on exactly how much to
work, consume, and save on each future date.
Together, the optimality conditions in equations 3.1
establish the negative relationship between the interest rate and
desired consumption that defines the demand side of the
model. The nature of this relationship is more transparent in
the special case of no habit in consumption ( = 0 ), when we

FRBNY Economic Policy Review / October 2010

27

can combine the two equations to obtain


(3.3)

Rt
bt + 1 1
1
- .
- ----------- ----------------------- = E t ------------bt C t + 1 Pt + 1 Pt
Ct

According to this so-called Euler equation, desired


consumption decreases when the (gross) real interest rate
Rt
------------------- increases, when expected future consumption
Pt + 1 Pt
decreases, and when households become more patient
( bt + 1 rises).
A log-linear approximation of the Euler equation (3.3),
after some manipulation, gives
(3.4)

yt = Et yt + 1 i t Et t + 1 t ,

where t log Pt Pt 1 is the quarterly inflation rate, i t log Rt


is the continuously compounded nominal interest rate,
t Et log bt + 1 bt is a transformation of the demand shock,
and y t log Yt is the logarithm of total output. In this
expression, we can substitute consumption of the final good Ct
with its output Yt because in our model consumption is the
only source of demand for the final good. Therefore, market
clearing implies Yt = Ct .
In this framework, equation 3.4 is similar to a traditional IS
equation, since it describes the relationship between aggregate
activity y t and the ex ante real interest rate i t Et t + 1 , which
must hold for the final-good market to clear. Unlike a
traditional IS relationship, though, this equation is dynamic
and forward looking, as it involves current and future expected
variables. In particular, it establishes a link between current
output and the entire future expected path of real interest rates,
as we see by solving the equation forward

(3.5)

yt = Et

it + s t + s + 1 t + s .
s=0

Through this channel, expectations of future monetary policy


directly affect current economic conditions. In fact, this
equation shows that future interest rates are just as important
to determine todays output as the current level of the shortterm rate, as we describe in our discussion of the role of policy
expectations.
In our full model, the Euler equation is somewhat more
complicated than in equation 3.4 because of the consumption
habit ( 0), which is a source of richer, and more realistic,
output dynamics in response to changes in the interest rate.
Nevertheless, these more intricate dynamics do not change the
qualitative nature of the relationship between real rates and
demand.
The third first-order condition of the household
optimization problem, equation 3.2, represents the labor
supply decision. It says that Americans are willing to work
more hours in firms that pay a higher wage and at times when

28

Policy Analysis Using DSGE Models: An Introduction

wages are higher, at least for differences in wages modest


enough to have no significant effect on their income.6 Large
wage changes, in fact, would trigger an income effect and
lead the now richer workers to curtail their labor supply.
Mathematically, workers with higher income could afford
more consumption, which would lead to a drop in the marginal
utility t and thus to a decrease in labor supply at any given
wage level.
We can think of the labor supply schedule (equation 3.2)
as a relationship determining the wage that firms must pay
to induce Americans to work a certain number of hours.
In prosperous times, when demand is high and firms are
producing much, firms require their labor force to work long
hours and they must correspondingly pay higher hourly wages.
This is an important consideration in the production and
pricing decisions of firms, as we discuss in the next section.

3.3. Firms and the Aggregate Supply Block


The supply block of a DSGE model describes how firms set
their prices as a function of the level of demand they face. Recall
that in prosperous times, demand is high and firms must pay
their workers higher wages. As a result, their costs increase as
do their prices. In the aggregate, this generates a positive
relationship between inflation and real activity.
In terms of microfoundations, establishing this relationship
requires some work, since firms must have some monopoly
power to set prices. This is why our production structure
includes a set of monopolistic i-firms, which set prices, as well
as an f-firm, which simply aggregates the output of the i-firm
into the final consumption good. Because all the pricing action
occurs within the i-firms, we focus on their problem and omit
that of the f-firm.
Intermediate firm i hires Ht i units of labor of type i on
a competitive market to produce Yt i units of intermediate
good i with the technology
(3.6)

Yt i = At Ht i ,

where At represents the overall efficiency of the production


process. We assume that At follows an exogenous stochastic
process, whose random fluctuations over time capture the
unexpected changes in productivity often experienced by
modern economiesfor example, the productivity boom in
the mid-1990s that followed the mass adoption of information
technology. We call this process an aggregate productivity shock,
since it is common to all firms.
Labor supply is upward sloping because is an increasing function, as is
convex. In other words, people dislike working an extra hour more intensely
when they are already working a lot rather than when they are working little.

The market for intermediate goods is monopolistically


competitive, as in Dixit and Stiglitz (1977), so firms set prices
subject to the requirement that they satisfy the demand for
their good. This demand comes from the f-firm and takes
the form
Pt i t
(3.7)
,
Yt i = Yt ----------Pt
where Pt i is the price of good i and t is the elasticity of
demand. When the relative price of good i increases, its
demand falls relative to aggregate demand by an amount
that depends on t .
Moreover, we assume that firms change their prices only
infrequently. The fact that firms do not adjust prices
continuously, but leave them unchanged in some cases for long
periods of time, should be familiar from everyday experience
and is well established in the economic literature (for example,
Bils and Klenow [2004]; Nakamura and Steinsson [2008]). To
model this fact, we follow Calvo (1983) and assume that in
every period only a fraction 1 of firms is free to reset its
price while the remaining fraction maintains its old price.7
The subset of firms that are able to set an optimal price at t ,
call it t 0 1 , maximize the discounted stream of expected
future profits, taking into account that s periods from now
s
there is a probability that they will be forced to retain the
price chosen today. The objective function of each of these
firms is therefore
s

s t + s
---------------- Pt i Yt + s i Wt + s i Ht + s i

Max E t
t
P
Pt i

s=0

for all i t , subject to the production function 3.6 and to the


additional constraint that they must satisfy the demand for
their product at every point in time
Pt i t + s
(3.8)
,
Yt + s i = Yt + s ---------- Pt + s
for s = 0 , 1, , . Profits, which are given by total revenue
at the price chosen today, Pt i Yt + s i minus total costs
s
Wt + s i Ht + s i , are discounted by the multiplier t + s t ,
sometimes called a stochastic discount factor, which translates
dollar profits in the future into a current dollar value.
The first-order condition of this optimization problem is

t + s 1
Wt + s i
s
- = 0,
t + s Yt + s Pt + s
Pt i t + s -----------------(3.9) E t
At + s

s=0

for all i t , where Pt i denotes the optimal price chosen by


firm i , Wt + s i At + s is the firms nominal marginal cost at time
t + s 1
t + s , and t + s = ---------------- is its desired mark-upthe mark-up
t + s
In our estimated model in Section 5, we actually assume that the fraction
of firms that cannot choose their price freely can in fact adjust it in part to catch
up with recent inflation. This assumption improves the models ability to fit the
data on inflation, but it would complicate our presentation of the models
microfoundations without altering its basic message.

it would charge if prices were flexible. As rational monopolists,


optimizing firms set their price as a mark-up over their
marginal cost. However, this relationship holds in expected
present discounted value, rather than every period, since a
s
price chosen at time t will still be in effect with probability
in period t + s.
We can rewrite the marginal cost of a firm that at time t + s
is still forced to retain the price Pt i as
(3.10)

Wt + s i H t + s i 1
S t + s i ------------------ = ----------------------------- ---------- t + s bt + s At + s
At + s
P i t + s
Y

A t + s Pt + s
= --------------------------------------------------,
A t + s t + s bt + s
t + s t
- -----------
---------

where we use the labor supply relation 3.2 to substitute for the
wage as well as the production function 3.6 and the demand
function 3.8 to give us an expression for the labor demand
Ht + s i .8 Inserting this expression into the first-order
condition 3.9, we see that the solution to the optimal pricing
problem is the same for all firms in the set t , since it depends

only on the aggregate variables Yt + s , At + s , Pt + s , t + s s = 0 .


We denote this common optimal price as Pt .
t + s 1
The equation for the desired mark-up t + s = ---------------- , also
t + s
known as Lerners formulasays that monopolists facing a
more rigid demand optimally charge a higher mark-up, and
thus higher prices, since their clients are less sensitive to
changes in the latter. We assume that this sensitivitythe
elasticity of demandand thus the desired mark-up, follows
an exogenous stochastic process. Positive realizations of this
desired mark-up shock, which correspond to a fall in the
elasticity of demand, represent an increase in firms market
power, to which they respond by increasing their price.
Equation 3.9, together with the definition of the aggregate
price level as a function of newly set prices Pt and of the past
price index Pt 1
1
Pt 1 Pt

1 t

------------1 t 1 t

+ Pt

yields an approximate New Keynesian Phillips curvea


relationship between current inflation, future expected
inflation, and real marginal costof the form
(3.11)

t = st + Et t + 1 + ut ,

where ut = log ut is a transformation of the mark-up shock


and st log St Pt is the logarithm of the real marginal cost.9
The sensitivity of inflation to changes in the marginal cost, ,
depends on the frequency of price adjustment , as well as on

These substitutions are equivalent to solving for equilibrium in the labor


market.
9
Variables are in logarithms, because equation 3.11, like equation 3.4, is
obtained by a log-linear approximation.

FRBNY Economic Policy Review / October 2010

29

1 1 ,
other structural parameters, according to ------------------------------------- 1 +
H
where ----------- is the elasticity of the marginal disutility of

work, while is the average value of the elasticity of demand t .


This Phillips curve, together with the expression for
marginal costs (3.10), provides the relationship between
inflation and real activity that defines the supply block of the
model. In fact, we see from equation 3.10 that marginal cost
depends on the level of aggregate activity, among other factors.
Higher economic activity leads to higher wages and marginal
costs. Thus, firms increase their prices, boosting aggregate
inflation.
Another important feature of the Phillips curve is that it is
forward looking, just as the Euler equation in the previous
section is. As in that case, therefore, we can iterate equation
3.11 forward to obtain

4Q

+ y yt yt +t ,
e

where rt , t, and yt are the baselines for the real interest rate,
4Q
inflation, and output, respectively, and t log Pt Pt 4 is
the rate of inflation over the previous four quarters. The
i
monetary policy shock t , a random variable with mean zero,
captures any deviation of the observed nominal interest rate
from the value suggested by the rule. This rule implies that,
if inflation and output rise above their baseline levels, the
nominal interest rate is lifted over time above its own baseline,
e
rt + t, by amounts dictated by the parameters and y and
at a speed that depends on the coefficient . The higher policy
rate, which is expected to persist even after output and inflation
have returned to normal, exerts a restraining force on the

t = E t st + s + u t + s ,
s

When output is at its efficient level,


inflation is not stable, as policymakers
would like it to be, but fluctuates because
of the presence of mark-up shocks. This
is the essence of the monetary policy
trade-offs in the economy.

s=0

which highlights how inflation today really depends on the


entire future expected path of marginal costs, and through
those, of real activity. But this path depends in turn on
expectations about interest rates, and thus on the entire future
course of monetary policy, as equation 3.5 shows. Hence,
we have the crucial role of policy expectations for the
determination of current economic outcomes in this model,
a feature we discuss in Section 2.

Monetary Policy
Recall that when the interest ratecurrent and expectedis
low, people demand more consumption goods (equation 3.5).
But if demand is high, firms marginal costs increase and so do
their prices. The end result is inflation. The opposite is true
when the interest rate is high. But where does the interest rate
come from? In DSGE models, as in the real world, the shortterm interest rate is set by monetary policy. In practice, this is a
decision made by a committee (the Federal Reserves Federal
Open Market Committee, or FOMC) using various inputs:
large data sets, projections from several models, and the
judgment of policymakers. Despite the apparent complexity of
the process, Taylor (1993) famously demonstrated that it can
be reasonably well approximated by assuming that the Federal
Reserve raises the federal funds rate when inflation and/or
output is high with respect to some baseline. This behavior is
assumed in almost all variants of DSGE models, although the
definition of the appropriate baselines is somewhat
controversial.
In our model, we assume that interest rates are set according
to the policy rule

30

i t = i t 1 + 1 r t + t + t t

(3.12)

Policy Analysis Using DSGE Models: An Introduction

economycurbing demand, marginal costs, and inflation. In


e
this respect, t and yt can be regarded as targets of monetary
policythe levels of inflation and output that the central bank
considers consistent with its mandateand therefore do not
elicit either a restrictive or a stimulative policy.
In equation 3.12, we denote the central banks objective in
e
terms of production as yt , the efficient level of output. This
unobserved variable can be derived from the microfoundations
of the model.10 It represents the level of output that would
prevail in the economy if we could eliminate at once all
distortionsnamely, force the i-firms to behave competitively
rather than as monopolists and allow them to change their
prices freely. The level of activity that would result from such
a situation is ideal from the perspective of the representative
household in the model, as its name suggests. This is what
makes it a suitable target for monetary policy. However,
when output is at its efficient level, inflation is not stable, as
policymakers would like it to be, but fluctuates because of
the presence of mark-up shocks. This is the essence of the
monetary policy trade-offs in the economy. Achieving the
10

The precise mathematical definition of efficient output in the model is


irrelevant for our purposes. We present in Section 4 an estimate of the behavior
of this variable over the last twenty years.

efficient level of output requires undesirable movements in


inflation. In contrast, a stable inflation implies deviations from
the efficient level of output. The two objectives cannot be
reconciled, but must be traded off of each other.
Related to the efficient level of output is the efficient real
e
interest rate, rt , which is the rate of return we would observe
in the efficient economy described above. This definition
implies that, when the actual real interest rate is at its efficient
level and is expected to remain there in the future, output will
e
also be at its efficient level. This is why we include rt in our
definition
of the baseline interest rate.
The other component of this baseline rate is the inflation
target t. We allow this target to vary slowly over time to
accommodate the fact that inflation hovered at about 4 percent
for a few years around 1990 before declining to nearly 2 percent
after the recession that ended in 1991. Nominal interest rates
were correspondingly higher in the first period, thus implying
a stable average for the real interest rate. We now present our
estimate of the evolution of the inflation target.

4. Empirical Approach
and Estimation Results
We estimate our model using data on the growth rate of real
GDP to measure output growth, yt , the growth rate of the
personal consumption expenditures chain price index
excluding food and energy (core PCE) to measure inflation, t ,
and the quarterly average of the monthly effective federal funds
rate to measure the nominal interest rate, i t . We measure
inflation by core PCE, rather than by a more comprehensive
measure, because the monetary policy debate in the United
States tends to focus on this index.
Our data span the period 1984:1 to 2007:4 (Chart 1). This is
the longest possible data set over which it is reasonable to argue
that U.S. monetary policy can be represented by a stable
interest rate rule. It follows the period of extremely high
interest rates in the early 1980s that brought inflation under
control. However, in the first few years of this sample, inflation
and the federal funds rate were still relatively high, with a fairly
abrupt reduction taking place around the 1991 recession. We
capture this low-frequency movement in inflation and the
nominal interest rate by including the slow-moving inflation
target t in the policy rule.
We use Bayesian methods to characterize the posterior
distribution of the parameters of the model. This distribution
combines the models likelihood function with prior
information on the parameters, using techniques surveyed, for

Chart 1

Observable Variables
Percent, annualized
12
Federal funds rate

10
8
6
4
2
0

Inflation
-2

GDP growth

-4
1984 86

88

90

92

94

96

98

00

02

04

06

Sources: Bureau of Economic Analysis; Board of Governors


of the Federal Reserve System.

example, by An and Schorfheide (2007).11 A discussion of these


methods is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, we focus on
the implications of these estimates for some key properties of
the model. Our objective is to show that the estimated model
provides a good fit to the data across many dimensions, but
also to highlight some of the models most notable
shortcomings.

4.1. Moment Comparisons


We compare the second moments implied by the estimated
model with those measured in the data. Table 1 presents the
standard deviations of the observable variables, reported as
annualized percentages. In the model column, we report the
median and 5th and 95th percentiles of the standard deviations
across draws from the models posterior. This interval reflects
the uncertainty on the structural parametersand thus on
the model-implied momentsencoded in the parameters
posterior distribution. In the data column, we report the
median and 5th and 95th percentiles of the empirical standard
deviations in the data. This interval represents the uncertainty
on the true empirical moments because of the small sample
available for their estimation.
Our model does a very good job replicating the volatilities in
the data. It captures the standard deviation of output growth
and replicates quite closely the volatility of the nominal interest
rate, although it overestimates the standard deviation of
11

The technical appendix provides information on the priors for the


parameters.

FRBNY Economic Policy Review / October 2010

31

Table 1

Model-Implied and Empirical Standard Deviations


Percent
Variable
GDP growth
Core PCE inflation
Federal funds rate

Model

Data

2.03
[1.79, 2.37]
1.41
[0.98, 2.40]
2.23
[1.61, 3.56]

2.03
[1.74, 2.27]
1.15
[0.67, 1.38]
2.46
[1.55, 2.94]

Source: Authors calculations.


Notes: The table reports the standard deviations of the observable
variables. The model-implied standard deviations are medians across
draws from the posterior; the 5th and 95th posterior percentiles across
those same draws are in brackets. The empirical standard deviations are
medians across bootstrap replications of a VAR(4) fit to the data; the
5th and 95th percentiles across those same replications are in brackets.
PCE is personal consumption expenditures.

inflation. The ability of the model to accurately reproduce the


volatility of the observable variables is not a preordained
conclusion, even if we freely estimate the standard deviations
of the shocks. The reason is that a likelihood-based estimator
tries to match the entire autocovariance function of the data,
and thus must strike a balance between matching standard
deviations and all the other second momentsnamely,
autocorrelations and cross-correlations.
These other moments are displayed in Chart 2. The black
line represents the model-implied correlation, with the shaded
area representing a 90 percent posterior interval. The solid blue

Our model does a very good job


replicating the volatilities in the data.
It captures the standard deviation of
output growth and replicates quite closely
the volatility of the nominal interest rate,
although it overestimates the standard
deviation of inflation.
line is instead the correlation measured in the data, with a
90 percent bootstrap interval around this estimate represented
by the dashed lines. The serial correlation of output growth in
the model is very close to its empirical counterpart and well
within the data-uncertainty band. For inflation and the interest
rate, the model serial correlations are on the high end of the

32

Policy Analysis Using DSGE Models: An Introduction

band. This excessive persistence is a result of the low-frequency


component in both variables associated with the inflation
target, as we can infer from the variance decomposition
in Table 2.
According to the model, shocks to the inflation target
account for 85 percent of the unconditional variance of
inflation and 38 percent of that of the nominal interest rate.
Although we do not calculate a variance decomposition by
frequency, we know that the contribution of the inflation target
shock is concentrated at low frequencies, since this shock is
very persistent (the posterior mean of its autocorrelation
coefficient is 0.98). This finding suggests that the model faces
a trade-off between accommodating the downward drift in
inflation in the first part of our sample and providing a more
balanced account of the sources of inflation variability.
The rest of the variance decomposition accords well with
conventional wisdom. The productivity shock plays an

According to the model, shocks to the


inflation target account for 85 percent of
the unconditional variance of inflation and
38 percent of that of the nominal interest
rate. This finding suggests that the model
faces a trade-off between accommodating
the downward drift in inflation in the first
part of our sample and providing a more
balanced account of the sources of
inflation variability.
important role in accounting for the volatility of output
growth, although the demand shock and the monetary policy
shocks (interest rate plus inflation target) are also nonnegligible. Moreover, the demand shock accounts for more
than half of the variance of the nominal interest rate. Finally,
mark-up shocks play a minor role as sources of volatility.
This finding has potentially important policy implications,
since in the model mark-up shocks are the only source of
the aforementioned policy trade-off between inflation and
real activity.
Returning now to the cross-correlations in Chart 2, we see
that the model is quite successful in capturing the lead-lag
relationships in the data. In our sample, there is no statistically
significant predictability of future inflation through current
output growth, a pattern that is reproduced by the model. The

Chart 2

Correlations
Corr. ( yt , t+k )

Corr. ( yt , yt-k )
1.0

0.4

0.8

0.3
0.2

0.6

0.1

0.4

0
0.2

-0.1

-0.2

-0.2

-0.3
-0.4

-0.4
Corr. ( t , t-k )

Corr. ( t , it+k )

1.0

0.8

0.8

0.6

0.6

0.4

0.4

0.2

0.2

-0.2
Corr. ( it , yt+k )

Corr. ( it , i t-k )
1.0

0.6

0.8

0.4

0.6

0.2
0.4

0
0.2

-0.2

0
-0.2

4
k

-0.4
-8 -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1

0
k

Source: Authors calculations.


Notes: The black line represents the median model-implied correlation across draws from the posterior; the shaded area represents the interval between
the 5th and 95th percentiles across those same draws. The solid blue line represents the median autocorrelation across bootstrap replications of a VAR(4)
fit to the data; the dashed blue lines represent the interval between the 5th and 95th percentiles across those same replications. Each statistic is calculated
at horizons k = 0, . . . 8 for autocorrelations and at horizons k = -8, . . . , 0, . . . 8 for cross-correlations.

model also reproduces the positive correlation between


inflation and the nominal interest rate present in the data both
in the leads and in the lags (the middle right panel of the chart).
The positive correlation between current interest rates and
future inflation might seem puzzling at first. We would expect
higher interest rates to bring inflation down over time, which
should make the correlation negative. However, over our

sample, this negative relationship is confounded by the lowfrequency positive comovement between inflation and the
nominal interest rate induced by the Fisher effect. Recall that
inflation and the nominal interest rate in fact are persistently
above their unconditional sample average over the first third
of the sample and are persistently below it after about 1992.
The bottom right panel of Chart 2 reports the dynamic

FRBNY Economic Policy Review / October 2010

33

Table 2

Variance Decomposition
Percent
Shocks
Variable
GDP growth
Core PCE inflation
Federal funds rate

Demand

Productivity

Mark-Up

Interest Rate

Inflation Target

0.20
[.13, .28]
0.04
[.01, .06]
0.54
[.32, .76]

0.56
[.45, .67]
0.01
[.00, .02]
0.06
[.00, .13]

0.07
[.04, .10]
0.10
[.04, .17]
0.01
[.00, .02]

0.04
[.02, .06]
0.00
[.00, .01]
0.01
[.01, .02]

0.13
[.07, .19]
0.85
[.76, .94]
0.38
[.16, .61]

Source: Authors calculations.


Notes: The table reports the share of the unconditional variance of each observable variable contributed by each shock. The point estimates are medians
across draws from the posterior; the 5th and 95th posterior percentiles across those same draws are in brackets. PCE is personal consumption expenditures.

correlation between output growth and the nominal interest


rate. In the data, high growth rates of output predict high
nominal interest rates one to two years ahead, but this
predictability is much less pronounced in the model.
Moreover, this discrepancy is statistically significant in the
sense that the model-implied median autocorrelation lies
outside the 90 percent bootstrap interval computed from the
data. This failure to match the data highlights the main
empirical weakness of our model: its demand-side
specification. As in most of the DSGE literature, our demand
block consists of the Euler equation of a representative
consumer. Standard specifications of a Euler equation of the
type adopted here provide an inaccurate description of the
observed relationship between the growth rate of consumption
(or output, as in our case) and financial returns, including
interest rates, as first documented by Hansen and Singleton
(1982, 1983) and subsequently confirmed by many others (see
Campbell [2003] for a review). Improving the performance of
the current generation of DSGE models in this dimension
would be an important priority for future research.
We now report our estimates of a few of the variables that
play an important role in the model, but that are not directly
observable. We focus on the three latent variables that enter
the interest rate rule: the inflation target t, the output gap
e
e
yt yt , and the efficient real interest rate rt (Chart 3). As in
Charts 1 and 2, the black line is the median estimate across
draws from the models posterior and the shaded area
represents a 90 percent posterior probability interval.
Starting from the top panel, we note that the estimated
inflation target captures well the step-down in inflation from
a local mean above 4 percent between 1984 and 1991 to an
average value of around 2 percent since 1994. This permanent
reduction in inflation represents the last stage of the

34

Policy Analysis Using DSGE Models: An Introduction

disinflation process initiated by Federal Reserve Chairman


Volcker in 1979, which became known as an example of
opportunistic disinflation (Orphanides and Wilcox 2002).
Needless to say, the estimated target is not completely smooth,
but it also displays some higher frequency variation. For
example, it reaches a minimum of around 1 percent at the
beginning of 2003, but moves closer to 2 percent over 2004.
(The next section studies in more detail the implications of
these movements.)
The middle and bottom panels of Chart 3 report estimates
of the output gapthe percentage deviation of output from its
efficient leveland of the efficient real interest rate. Several
features of the estimated output gap are noteworthy. First, its
two deepest negative troughs correspond to the two recessions
in our sample. In this respect, our model-based output gap
conforms well with more conventional measures of this
variable, such as the one produced by the Congressional
Budget Office (CBO). However, the shortfall of output from its
efficient level is never larger than 0.7 percent, even in these
recessionary episodes. By comparison, the CBO output gap is
as low as -3.2 percent in 1991. The amplitude of the business
cycle fluctuations in our estimated output gap is small because
the efficient level of output is a function of all the shocks in the
model and therefore it tracks actual output quite closely. The
last notable feature of the efficient output gap is that it displays
a very pronounced volatility at frequencies higher than the
business cycle. During the 1990s expansion, for example, it
crosses the zero line about a dozen times.
Compared with the output gap, the efficient real rate is
significantly smoother. Although some high-frequency
variation remains, the behavior of the efficient real rate is
dominated by swings at the business cycle frequency. The rate
spikes and then plunges for some time before the onset of

Chart 3

Kalman Smoother Estimates of Latent Variables


*t
7
6

To show how our model can be used to address specific policy


questions, we examine a particular historical episode: the
puzzling pickup in inflation in the first half of 2004. This
exercise allows us to illustrate how we use the models forecasts
to construct alternative scenarios for counterfactual policy
analysis. Moreover, our analysis offers potentially interesting
lessons for the current situationalthough inflation has
recently been quite low, there has been some concern that
it might accelerate in the near future.
After approaching levels close to 1 percent between 2002
and 2003, core PCE inflation started moving higher in mid2003. This pickup accelerated significantly in the first half

5
4
3
2
1
0
-1
0.8
0.6

5. The Model at Work: The Pickup


in Inflation in the First Half
of 2004

yt - yte

0.4
0.2
0
-0.2

To show how our model can be used to


address specific policy questions, we
examine a particular historical episode:
the puzzling pickup in inflation in the first
half of 2004. This exercise allows us to
illustrate how we use the models forecasts
to construct alternative scenarios for
counterfactual policy analysis.

-0.4
-0.6
-0.8
-1.0
e

rt
10
8
6
4
2
0
-2

-4
1984 86

88

90

92

94

96

98

00

02

04

06

Source: Authors calculations.


Notes: The black line represents the Kalman smoother estimate of
the relevant latent variable conditional on the posterior mean of the
parameters; the shaded area represents the interval between the 5th
and 95th percentiles of the Kalman smoother estimates across draws
from the posterior. The vertical bands indicate NBER recessions.

recessions and recovers a few quarters into the expansions. It is


interesting to note that the efficient real rate was negative for
the entire period between 2001 and 2004a time when the
FOMC was concerned about the possibility that the U.S.
economy would fall into a liquidity trap.12 A negative efficient
real interest rate is a necessary condition for the zero bound on
nominal interest rates to become binding, and hence for the
liquidity trap to become a problem.
12

A liquidity trap describes a situation in which nominal interest rates have


reached their zero lower bound, as in Japan in the 1990s, and therefore cannot
be lowered any further.

of 2004, when (year-over-year) core inflation moved from


about 1.5 percent to more than 2 percent, where it remained
until the end of 2008. We use our DSGE model to analyze
the sources of this unusually rapid and persistent step-up in
the level of inflation.
We organize our discussion around three questions. First,
was the surge in inflation forecastable? As we will see, the
answer to this question is no, at least from the perspective of
our model. Second, what accounts for the discrepancy between
the models forecast and the observed paths of inflation, output
growth, and the federal funds rate? Third, could monetary
policy have achieved a smooth transition to inflation rates
below 2 percent and, if so, at what cost in terms of added
volatility in output and the interest rate?
Chart 4 presents forecasts of quarterly core PCE inflation,
real GDP growth, and the federal funds rate from the DSGE
model. The forecast starts in 2003:1, when quarterly inflation
reached 1.1 percent (at an annual rate)its lowest level
following the 2001 recessionand extends through the
beginning of 2005. In each panel, the dashed line represents

FRBNY Economic Policy Review / October 2010

35

assessed only about one in ten chances (12.5 percent) of


inflation being as high as it was in that period.
From an economic perspective, it is interesting to note that
these sizable forecast errors for inflation roughly correspond to
the considerable period era that extended from June 2003 to
June 2004. At that time, the FOMC kept the federal funds rate
constant at 1 percent to guard against the risk of deflation,
while indicating in its statement that policy accommodation
can be maintained for a considerable period.13 According to
the models projection, this path for the federal funds rate
represents a deviation from the policy stance historically
maintained by the Federal Reserve in similar macroeconomic
circumstances. Based on the estimated interest rate rule, in fact,

Chart 4

Forecasts of Observable Variables


3.5

Core PCE Inflation

2.5

1.5

0.5
-0.5
8

Real GDP Growth

The DSGE forecast is just a description of


what would happen to the variables of
interest if we allowed the model economy
to run from its initial condition, without
introducing any innovations. Any observed
deviation from the forecast, therefore,
must be attributable to the realization of a
particular combination of such innovations.

4
2
0
-2
5

Federal Funds Rate

4
3
2
1
0
-1
2002

2003

2004

Source: Authors calculations.


Notes: The dashed line represents the forecast of the relevant variable
conditional on the posterior mean of the parameters; the solid line
represents the observed realization. The shaded areas represent
50 (light blue), 75 (medium blue), and 90 percent (dark blue)
symmetric probability intervals for the forecast at each horizon.
PCE is personal consumption expenditure.

the expected value of the forecast, while the bands show the
50 (light blue), 75 (medium blue), and 90 (dark blue) percent
probability intervals. The solid line shows the realized data.
The model performs well in its forecast of output and the
federal funds rate, especially in the medium term. Inflation,
by comparison, is close to the mean forecast in 2003, but is
well above it in 2004 and beyond. Moreover, the probability
intervals for the forecast suggest that this realization of
inflation was quite unusual, as we see from the fact that the
solid line borders the 75 percent probability interval in the first
half of 2004. This means that in 2003:1, the model would have

36

Policy Analysis Using DSGE Models: An Introduction

the DSGE predicts a slow rise in the interest rate over 2003 and
2004. Instead, the FOMC maintained the federal funds rate at
1 percent through the first half of 2004.
However, the pickup in inflation over this period is
significantly more unusual than the deviation of the federal
funds rate from the historical norm. Actual inflation in 2004 is
mostly outside the 50 percent probability interval of the model
forecast (the light blue band), while the actual federal funds
rate remains well within it. Moreover, the acceleration in
inflation is not accompanied by unexpectedly high real growth,
suggesting that it cannot be fully explained by the traditional
channel of transmission from an overheated economy to
higher inflation.
What else, then, accounts for the unexpected and unlikely
deviation of inflation from the models forecast over 2004?
The DSGE framework provides a particularly useful way of
addressing this question. As we discuss in Section 2, the
economic outcomes predicted by the modelthe levels of
inflation, output, and the interest rateare the result of the
endogenous responses of the agents in the economy to the
13

This formulation was maintained in the FOMC statement from August 2003
to December 2003, and was later substituted with policy accommodation can
be removed at a pace that is likely to be measured.

Chart 5

Forecasts of Shocks
2

Demand

Productivity

0
-2
-1
-4

-2
-3

-6
1.0

2.0

Mark-Up

Inflation Target

1.5

0.5

1.0
0
0.5
-0.5

0
-0.5

-1.0
2002

2003

2004

2002

2003

2004

Source: Authors calculations.


Notes: The dashed line represents the forecast of the relevant shock conditional on the posterior mean of the parameters while the solid line
represents an estimate of the realization based on the Kalman smoother. The shaded area represents the 75 percent symmetric probability
interval for the forecast at each horizon.

realization of a set of exogenous processes, such as productivity


or desired mark-ups. The innovations to these driving
processes account for the deviations of the data from the
models forecast. In fact, the DSGE forecast is just a description
of what would happen to the variables of interest if we allowed
the model economy to run from its initial condition, without
introducing any innovations. Any observed deviation from the
forecast, therefore, must be attributable to the realization of a
particular combination of such innovations.14
Chart 5 depicts the combinations of exogenous driving
processes that, according to the estimated DSGE model, are
responsible for the observed path of inflation, output, and the
interest rate over the period we analyze. In each panel, the
dashed line represents the evolution of the shock associated
with the mean forecast while the solid line represents the
sequence of shocks corresponding to the actual realization of
the observable variables. As in Chart 4, the medium blue band
denotes the 75 percent probability interval for the forecast.
14

In this study, we distinguish between exogenous driving processesshocks,


for shortand innovations. Driving processes can be autocorrelated, and thus
forecastable, while their innovations are i.i.d.

The contribution of three shocks stands out. First, the


demand shock recovers from almost -4 percent to around
-1 percent. This movement is particularly pronounced during
2004, when inflation was picking up. However, this profile
is broadly consistent with the shocks expected evolution,
represented by the dashed line. The productivity shock is also
broadly in line with expectations, with the exception of 2003:3;
this spike in productivity accounts for the corresponding spike
in output growth in that quarter.
However, the most significant and direct contribution to the
surge in inflation comes from a sizable upward movement in
the inflation target, t. According to our estimates, this target
moves by about 1 percentage point, from less than 1 percent to
close to 2 percent. Moreover, this movement is at the edge of
the 75 percent probability interval for the forecast, suggesting
that the realization of this driving process is indeed quite
unusual.
To quantify more directly the effect on inflation of the
unexpected increase in the implicit inflation target, we depict
what would have happened to core PCE inflation in the
absence of such an increase (Chart 6). Here, the solid line

FRBNY Economic Policy Review / October 2010

37

Chart 6

Conditional Forecast of Inflation


3

Core PCE Inflation

0
2002

2003

2004

Source: Authors calculations.


Notes: The dashed line represents a forecast of inflation conditional on
the Kalman smoother estimates of all shocks except for those to the
inflation target; the solid line represents the observed realization.
The shaded areas represent 50 (light blue), 75 (medium blue), and
90 percent (dark blue) symmetric probability intervals for this
conditional forecast. Therefore, they represent uncertainty stemming
from future realizations of the inflation target shock alone. PCE is
personal consumption expenditure.

is realized inflation. The dashed line represents the counterfactual path of inflation predicted by the model in the absence
of shocks to the inflation target. In other words, this is a
forecast for inflation, conditional on the estimated path of all
but the inflation target shock. The bands therefore represent
the usual probability intervals, but in this case they are
computed around this conditional forecast.
The chart confirms our conclusion on the role of
innovations to the inflation target in accounting for the
observed evolution of inflation. According to the model, core
inflation would not have increased to above 2 percent, as it did
for most of 2004, without the steady increase in the inflation
target over the same period. In fact, inflation would have
remained within the comfort zone of 1 to 2 percent.
Moreover, note that the solid line of realized inflation is mostly
inside the area associated with the 90 percent probability
interval for the conditional forecast. This suggests that the
share of the forecast error in inflation accounted for by the
innovations in the inflation target in this episode is unusually
large compared with the historical average. This is just a more
formal way of saying that the increase in the inflation target is
disproportionately responsible for the observed increase in
inflation that we examine.
The estimated rise in the implicit inflation target provides
the missing link for a unified explanation of the pickup in
inflation, the considerable period monetary policy, and the
absence of a concomitant acceleration in output growth. In the
model, the inflation target is the main driver of movements

38

Policy Analysis Using DSGE Models: An Introduction

in inflation expectations, which are a key determinant of


firms pricing behavior together with the amount of slack in
the economy. According to the DSGE model, therefore, a
significant fraction of the inflation acceleration in 2003-04 can
be attributed to a change in inflation expectations, driven by an
increase in the Federal Reserves implicit inflation target as
perceived by the private sector. This increase in the perceived
target in turn is consistent with the unusually loose stance
of monetary policy maintained by the FOMC during the
considerable period era.
This brings us to the third question: If the DSGE model
is correct, and the pickup in inflation in 2004 is attributable
to an increase in the implicit inflation target perceived by
the public, could the Federal Reserve have prevented this
development?
Charts 7 and 8 show the results of this counterfactual
analysis. Both charts display the data (solid line) along with the
counterfactual outcomes for the economy predicted by the
model under a policy consistent with the stabilization of core
inflation at 1.6 percent through 2004. The way in which this

According to the DSGE model . . .


a significant fraction of the inflation
acceleration in 2003-04 can be attributed
to a change in inflation expectations,
driven by an increase in the Federal
Reserves implicit inflation target as
perceived by the private sector.
policy is implemented, however, is different in the two cases. In
Chart 7, we present the outcomes associated with what we call
a no-communication monetary strategy (dashed line) while
in Chart 8 we compare these results with those that would
emerge under a full-communication strategy (blue line).
Under the no-communication strategy, the path for the
interest rate compatible with the desired evolution of inflation
is achieved each period through surprise departures from the
historical rule. In contrast, under the full-communication
strategy, the Federal Reserve implements the same path for
inflation by announcing an inflation target that is consistent
with it.15
15

Technically, in both cases we choose shocks to the monetary policy rule


that are compatible with the desired evolution of inflation, conditional on
the smoothed value of all other disturbances. Under the no-communication
i
strategy, the shocks we choose are the i.i.d. monetary shocks, t . Under
the full-communication strategy, our chosen shocks are to the inflation

target, t .

Chart 7

Chart 8

No-Communication Counterfactual

Full-Communication Counterfactual
3

Core PCE Inflation

12

12

Real GDP Growth

10

10

-2

-2

Federal Funds Rate

-1

-1

Core PCE Inflation

Real GDP Growth

Federal Funds Rate

-2

-2
2002

2003

2004

2002

2003

2004

Source: Authors calculations.

Source: Authors calculations.

Notes: The dashed line represents the counterfactual evolution of the


economy predicted by our model had monetary policy been set to
achieve the path for inflation depicted in the top panel. This counterfactual is conditional on the posterior mean of the parameters. Under
the no-communication scenario, the desired path for inflation is
achieved by the choice of the interest rate shock while all other shocks
are set at their Kalman smoother estimate. The shaded area represents the
75 percent symmetric probability interval for the unconditional forecast,
which is the same as in Chart 4. The black line represents the observed
realization of each series. PCE is personal consumption expenditure.

Notes: The blue line represents the counterfactual evolution of the


economy predicted by our model had monetary policy been set to
achieve the path for inflation depicted in the top panel. This counterfactual is conditional on the posterior mean of the parameters. Under
the full-communication scenario, the desired path for inflation is
achieved by the choice of the inflation target while all other shocks are
set at their Kalman smoother estimate. The shaded area represents the
75 percent symmetric probability interval for the unconditional forecast,
which is the same as in Chart 4. The black line represents the observed
realization of each series. The dashed line is the conditional forecast
under the no-communication scenario. PCE is personal
consumption expenditure.

The crucial difference between the results obtained under


the two scenarios stems from the key role that expectations play
in the DSGE model. Under the full-communication strategy,
inflation expectations are immediately affected by the
announcement of an inflation target. These expectations in
turn have a direct effect on actual inflation without requiring a
contraction in real activity to force businesses to contain their

price increases. Under the no-communication strategy,


inflation expectations remain at their historical level. As a
result, inflation can be controlled only by increasing interest
rates to contain GDP growth.
The way in which we model the full-communication
scenario is quite stark. In practice, expectations would be
unlikely to adjust instantaneously, even if the Federal Reserve

FRBNY Economic Policy Review / October 2010

39

were completely transparent about its inflation target. Nevertheless, the differences between the results of the two policy
strategies are striking. In the no-communication case, inflation
can be stabilized only through wild movements in the federal
funds rate. As a result, GDP growth is also extremely volatile:
it falls below zero in 2004:1, but then recovers to a quarterly
(annualized) growth rate of 10 percent and ends the period

Reserve around 2003 was to minimize the U.S. economys


likelihood of falling into such a trap.16 From this perspective,
our analysis might be interpreted as supportive of the policy
stance adopted by the central bank in 2003-04 as part of a
successful preemptive strike against a liquidity trap.

6. Conclusion
Our analysis might be interpreted as
supportive of the policy stance adopted
by the central bank in 2003-04 as part of
a successful preemptive strike against
a liquidity trap.

at zero. These movements in output are indeed extreme. They


lie well outside the 75 percent forecast probability interval
reported in the chart. In fact, the quantitative details of the
evolution of output and the interest rate under the counterfactual simulations should not be taken literally, since they
depend significantly on the details of the model and on the
assumption that the central bank insists on perfectly stabilizing
current inflation. However, the qualitative pattern of higher
volatility under the no-communication strategy is a robust
feature of models in which expectations matter.
Under the full-communication strategy, in contrast, the
desired path for inflation can be achieved with much less
pronounced fluctuations in real growth and an almost
unchanged policy relative to the actual path. Interest rates need
not rise and output need not fall significantly because a shift in
expectations brought about by clear communication of the
Federal Reserves inflation objective largely brings inflation
under control.
Note that the results of these counterfactual exercises should
be interpreted with caution. Their objective is not to prescribe
an alternative to the policy followed in 2004, but rather to
investigate how a different path for inflation might have been
achieved. In fact, according to Krugman (1998) and Eggertsson
and Woodford (2003), an increase in inflation expectations
might be the best monetary strategy to escape a liquidity trap.
Many have argued that the main objective of the Federal

40

Policy Analysis Using DSGE Models: An Introduction

This article provides an introduction to dynamic stochastic


general equilibrium models and presents an example of their
use as tools for monetary policy analysis. Given the mainly
educational nature of our presentation, we simplify by using
a small-scale model designed to account for the behavior of
three key macroeconomic variables: GDP growth, core PCE
inflation, and the federal funds rate. Despite its simplicity, our
model is rich enough to reproduce some of the salient features
of the series of interest. It also allows us to highlight the
components common to more articulated and realistic DSGE
specifications.
Our model offers insight into the causes of the abrupt pickup in inflation in the first half of 2004, from levels close to
1 percent at the beginning of 2003 to values steadily above
2 percent through the end of 2008. This exercise highlights the
central role of expectations in the transmission of shocks and
policy impulses in DSGE models. The main lesson that we
derive from the exercise is that the most effective approach
to controlling inflation is through the management of
expectations, rather than through actual movements of the
policy instrument. This lesson seems to be well understood by
the public, given the amount of attention and speculation that
usually surround the pronouncements of central bankers on
their likely future actions. DSGE models have the potential
to broaden this understanding by adding a quantitative
assessment of the link between current policy, expectations,
and economic outcomesand thus to clarify the effect that
different systematic approaches to policy have on those
outcomes.
16

In its August 2003 statement, the FOMC observed that on balance, the risk
of inflation becoming undesirably low is likely to be the predominant concern
for the foreseeable future. Very low or negative levels of inflation are one of
the most likely triggers of a liquidity trap.

Technical Appendix

The table reports information on the prior distribution for


the parameters of the model. Further details on the parameters
and the structure of the model are available from the
corresponding authors.

Parameter

Distribution

Mean

Standard
Deviation

Calibrated
Gamma
Gamma
Beta
Beta
Beta
Normal
Normal
Normal
Normal
Normal
Beta
Beta
Beta
Beta
InvGamma
InvGamma
InvGamma
InvGamma
InvGamma

0.99
0.1
1.0
0.6
0.6
0.7
1.5
0.5
2.0
2.0
3.0
0.95
0.5
0.5
0.5
0.5
0.5
0.5
0.2
0.5

0.05
0.2
0.2
0.2
0.15
0.25
0.2
1.0
1.0
0.35
0.04
0.2
0.2
0.2
2.0
2.0
2.0
1.0
2.0

u

i

FRBNY Economic Policy Review / October 2010

41

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The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
or the Federal Reserve System. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York provides no warranty, express or implied, as to the
accuracy, timeliness, completeness, merchantability, or fitness for any particular purpose of any information contained in
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FRBNY Economic Policy Review / October 2010

43